5 facts about Dawn Wells, who starred as Mary Ann on ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and died at age 82

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Beloved actress Dawn Wells, best known for her role as castaway Mary Ann on the classic TV comedy “Gilligan’s Island,” died on Dec. 30. Her publicist, B. Harlon Boll, confirmed the sad news on social media on the day of her death.

He talked of Wells not as his client, but as a “friend or family member.”

“I am devastated today,” Boll wrote on Facebook, as seen in the post below. “America’s favorite castaway, Dawn Wells, passed peacefully this morning, in no pain, as a result of complications due to COVID at the age of 82.”

Though she was largely known as the girl-next-door Mary Ann, Dawn Wells was more than just the sweet sidekick on a hit TV show in the 1960s. In her decades-long career, she moved from the stage to the small screen to the big screen — and she even worked behind the camera.

Here are five facts you may not have known about the incomparable Dawn Wells.

1. She Competed In The Miss America Pageant

Wells was born in Reno, Nevada, on Oct. 18, 1938. In 1959, at the age of 20, she won the title of Miss Nevada and went on to compete in the Miss America pageant. When she arrived at the competition in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Wells brought gifts for all 54 competitors.

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2. Her Acting Career Started Before ‘Gilligan’s Island’

Wells was a drama major at the University of Washington and did a reading of “Antigone” for the talent portion of the Miss Nevada pageant. Following her appearance in the Miss America competition, she won small roles on popular TV shows at the time, including “Bonanza,” “Maverick” and “The Joey Bishop Show.”

3. Wells Beat Out Some Big-Name Actresses For The Role Of Mary Ann

It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island.” Wells perfectly embodied the country girl with the gingham dress and pigtails. However, she had stiff competition during the audition process, beating out 350 other actresses to earn her defining role.

And one of the actresses vying for the part of Mary Ann stood out in Wells’ memory: Raquel Welch.

“That’s the only time I could beat Raquel Welch out of anything,” she joked to the Associated Press years later.

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4. Wells Reprised The Role Of Mary Ann On ‘Baywatch’

One might think an actress could resent being forever identified with one TV role she played in the early 1960s. But Wells embraced Mary Ann and the fan-fueled rivalry of “Mary Ann or Ginger.”

“You can go anywhere and say ‘Ginger or Mary Ann?'” she told the Vancouver Sun in 2014. “You don’t have to say what show it is. Everybody gets it. And I always win.”

Wells revisited the role of Mary Ann a number of times in various TV-movie sequels and even in a 1992 episode of “Baywatch.” Erika Eleniak, who starred in the lifeguard action series, shared on Twitter that Wells’s episode is her favorite.

5. Wells Went On To Become A TV Producer And Author

Wells wasn’t satisfied with more than 150 TV shows, 70 theatrical productions and feature film performances. She eventually moved into a producer’s role for projects that aired on CBS, Showtime and Amazon.

And in September 2014, Wells released  “What Would Mary Ann Do?”, a memoir and self-help book that once again reconnected her with her most famous role.

“I wrote the book partly in response to fans over the years,” Wells told USA Today. “It’s amazing that so many people still appreciate Mary Ann’s sense of values. It was a show about seven people from various walks of life who were thrown together and had to adapt to get along despite their differences. That’s a lesson we can all learn.”

We will miss Dawn Wells and her many contributions to the world of entertainment.

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About the Author
Marie Rossiter
Marie is a freelance writer and content creator with more than 20 years of experience in journalism. She lives in southwest Ohio with her husband and is almost a full-fledged empty nest mom of two daughters. She loves music, reading, word games, and Walt Disney World. Visit Scripps News to see more of Marie's work.

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